The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP counts Lyngdoh dividend

New Delhi Nov. 18: Developments over the past couple of days have put the BJP on a high on Gujarat.

First, the Election Commission directed the Gujarat government to ban the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Vijay Yatra and second, the Lok Sabha discussion on the CPM-sponsored adjournment motion on the Centre’s “failure” to curb violence in the state was allowed to take place today.

Party sources claimed both moves would help reconsolidate the Hindu vote which seemed “in danger of getting disintegrated” as the communal polarisation after Godhra began to fade.

“If Narendra Modi becomes the chief minister again, mark my words, the first person he will felicitate is James Michael Lyngdoh (the chief election commissioner),” said a minister of state from Gujarat.

He said Lyngdoh would be a key figure in the BJP’s campaign. He would be projected as an “agent” of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and the essence of the message would be that “two Christians” were out to “settle scores with the Hindus of Gujarat”.

“In village after village, our workers are spreading the (untrue) story of how Lyngdoh’s nephew married Sonia’s niece in a church in Italy. We are deliberately giving his full name so that people figure out the religious link. Lyngdoh is a name which won’t make sense unless James Michael is prefixed. Secularists may blanch but our villagers go delirious with joy every time such things are said. What does it matter if it is untrue' They believe the story,” this minister said.

Such was the euphoria in the BJP camp that sources claimed that “roadblocks” were “falling off by themselves with victory round the corner”.

Had the VHP’s yatra been allowed to run, BJP sources admitted, it might have been counterproductive. “There would have been violence and that would have reflected badly on Modi. By enforcing the ban, the EC has made a hero of Praveen Togadia and Acharya Dharmendra,” this minister said.

Today’s discussion in Parliament was described as an “infusion of more healthy blood in our election campaign”. “We were able to answer every charge levelled by the Congress more convincingly than their speakers. The regional press will faithfully report the debate. What better way of exposing the Congress than this'” asked BJP sources.

Gujarat BJP sources said Togadia, the international general secretary of the VHP and its best known face after Ashok Singhal, is “useful” in several ways to Modi. “Togadia is at liberty to say all that Modi cannot because as the chief minister, he will be forced to look over his shoulder in order not to annoy the EC. So in a sense he is our star campaigner,” they said.

The second factor is that Togadia is a Patel and can take on Modi’s rival in the BJP, Keshubhai Patel, in the Saurashtra region.

“Keshubhai is seen as a fading politician. Togadia is the new young face of the Patels,” the sources added.

It was pointed out that two influential sub-sects of the Swaminarayan sect, which controls the Akshardham temple, are “staunch” supporters of Togadia and their representatives had even participated in yesterday’s abortive yatra. Modi will be the “indirect beneficiary” of their backing.

With the Modi-Togadia combine — said to have a good rapport — taking charge, Gujarat BJP sources said they did not require Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani for campaigning.

Vajpayee is seen as a bit of a “liability”, particularly after he put out the statement asking that the EC’s order should be respected and emphasised that Godhra should not become a poll issue. “People are in no mood to listen to such wishy-washy statements,” the sources said.

That Delhi is making greater space for the state leadership’s opinion was evident from the fact that several Gujarat leaders were invited to a meeting of the central election committee today to finalise the list of candidates. In the past, the president of the state unit concerned and the chief minister, if the BJP was in power, were the only representatives at such meetings.

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